Last Friday we hosted our third workshop for new waterborne coatings users. We focused on the finishing cycle for cabinets; a very popular service as I write this. For the past several years there's been a big push in homes to paint cabinets and modernize the look of the kitchen. This trend is still going strong but we think it may revert back to wood in the not-so-distant future.
A few of the participants commented on the feel of the coating when compared to products they've used in the past. I thought this was interesting because we mainly receive feedback based on what the paint looks like, as opposed to what it feels like. Basically, they were saying that waterborne coatings, and specifically Milesi, felt "less rubbery" and "more like wood" than a coating that leaves the wood feeling closer to plastic. I think this is a major advantage when it comes to waterborne: look and feel.
One question that came out of these conservations was how that's possible. I'm no Chemist, but there's a unique cross-linking agent within European polyurethane coatings that differentiates it from solvents and American waterborne products. As a follow up to the aesthetic feel of the coatings, we got asked if these waterborne paints would tent to chip or dent upon impact. The answer most certainly could be both, but with these higher-end Italian coatings, most of the time they will end up denting with the wood, instead of chipping off in a brittle manner. The flexibility of the coating is especially important in climates where humidity levels fluctuate between seasons. The last thing you want to have happen is to get that phone call from a customer about paint chipping from their brand new painted cabinets.
Another question we get quite often is whether the hardener catalyst, that is sometimes added to boost durability, is toxic. It's a valid question and one worth discussing. But before I elaborate on that, I will let our readership know that our products are extremely safe for both the users and end users (your clients). We wouldn't have gotten into the business otherwise. We're not attracted to products that cause harm or have a higher chance of causing cancer. We are cognizant of the toxicity of solvents and other high VOC products. Our stains contain zero VOCs, so feel free to stain your hardwood floors without harmful off-gassing in your home. Our paints and clears have low VOCs as a single component. The hardener knocks that up a bit but it is only harmful when spraying. Once it hits the substrate, it can no longer cause harm. We recommend always using a respirator, but rest assured, the hardener does not off-gas in the clients home or in your shop once it's sprayed onto a cabinet door.
A third question we receive has to do with cost. We are more expensive than your average paint. But we're not your average paint. Just like a Mercedes or a Rolex, we bring a quality product to the market, and the cost is commensurate with that. I will note that our cans come in 5kg, which is the equivalent of 1.32 gallons, so we do provide more product than American paint companies. Cost is king right now, we get it. Everything from bread to cheese and copper wire to lumber is high right now. But as contractors, we hardly ever eat these costs. Most of the time, they're passed on to the client and represent a small percentage of the cost compared to the labor to get the project done. Nonetheless, cost matters and clients are much more sensitive to pricing now than ever before. Communicating the value of an eco-friendly, safe product that is going to end up in your clients' homes will help alleviate some sticker shock.
What is the best equipment to use with waterborne coatings? We hear this a lot. The answer, like most answers, is it depends. It depends on what sort of finish you're looking to achieve and it depends on the setup and finishers that will be spraying. At our shop, we use HVLP because we're spraying smaller amounts, more infrequently, and can't afford to have product sitting in lines. We also batch a lot and catalyze our samples so our clients get the full effect. More recently, and for production reasons, we've been pushing our clients toward airless sprayers, which tend to work really well with our thicker paints and clears. We highly recommend TriTech sprayers as they're best-in-class, come with a generous warranty and excellent support, and made from the same materials (and company) that supplies the US Government with our military aircraft. These machines contain chips that automatically adjust to the preset PSI when spraying, they're easy to break down and clean, and most importantly, produce a superior fine-finish look and feel.
Obviously we receive many more questions about our waterborne coatings, and coatings in general. The last question we often hear relates to the process of switching systems from solvents to waterborne. In particular, we get asked a lot about how difficult it's going to be to make the switch, whether or not it should be an "all or nothing" effort, and which equipment should be dedicated to this endeavor. We like to set expectations right from the outset; no, it's not going to be easy to make a change, it almost never is. People resist change in general, especially when they're used to using certain products within existing setups. We recommend that potential clients start small with dedicated equipment and ease into application of waterborne coatings, as opposed to going cold turkey and switching everything overnight. Test out a few jobs using a dedicated system and see how it works for your staff, your end results, and your customers. Then, if all is well and the buy-in from team members is there, make the switch.
In short, there's no shortage of questions out there about this popular trend toward using waterborne coatings. We're here, along with our sub-distributors, corporate, and our users, to help facilitate a potential change that won't be easy, but will be worth it in the long-run.